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This review is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

PRESIDING SPIRITS TED HUGHES, Tales from Ovid (Faber) £7.99

Anthologising the latest wunderkinder back in 1982, Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion confidently judged that 'Ted Hughes is a remarkable writer but no longer the presiding spirit of British poetry.' Time can be cruel to critics distracted by the vagaries of fashion: while many of those Penguin poets soon returned to well-deserved obscurity, Hughes's presence now looms larger than ever.

Admittedly, Morrison and Motion were only parroting received opinion. Hughes's reputation entered the comfort zone at least half a dozen collections ago, and his later poetry has been welcomed more respectfully than enthusiastically. Most critics presume that his groundbreaking work lies in the distant past. However, his publications in recent years should destroy this complacency. After the impressive prose collection Winter Pollen (1994), his New Selected Poems appeared the following year, ending with a selection of powerful new work. Now, offering his Tales from Ovid, Hughes observes in his Introduction that when Ovid undertook the Metamorphoses, 'the right man had met the right material at the right moment'. There is something equally fortuitous about Hughes's own project. Tales from Ovid is the work of a great poet writing at the height of his powers.

Although lacking the Roman poet's urbanity, Hughes has always been possessed with other identifiable aspects of the Ovidian spirit. He is attracted to creation myths; he probes and undermines the artificial divide between man and nature; his God's failings are all too human; and his poetry consistently draws on changelings and ...


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